Three years ago, a team of scientists from University of Chicago investigated how widely medical conspiracy theories were endorsed by the American population, and how such belief affected their health-seeking behaviour. The result was stunning: almost half of the subjects agreed to at least one medical conspiracy, and close to one in five of them agreed to three or more theories.
Here we will examine four commonest medical conspiracy theories and their wild, if not utterly ludicrous, origins.
1. US FDA deliberately prevent dissemination of natural cancer curesMore than one in three Americans believed the United States Food and Drug Administration consciously suppress the dissemination of effective, natural cancer cures because the agency is under heavy influence and pressure from pharmaceutical companies. The conspiracy goes further to accuse the whole medical community in plotting to keep these cures hidden because cancer is a multi-billion business.
The whole industry will be much better off to keep cancer patients on prolonged treatment compared to curing them. Other sources cited the American Medical Association (AMA) to single-handedly “bury” the cure. There is no doubt that much of these accusations are baseless and cannot be proven directly. However, there are other more credible incidents that may have led many to doubt FDA’s integrity. One of such incidents is the growing concerns about the intertwined financial relationships between the FDA and pharmaceutical companies.
The Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) made it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to pay FDA directly to review their application for drug approvals,, thus stirring much controversy as to how impartial FDA actually is in its review process.
2. Public water fluoridation is a secret way to dump phosphate mine byproductsWater fluoridation was considered as one of the most vital public health achievement of the last century by the Center for Disease Control. Water fluoridation is, as described by Dr Joe Mullen in BDJ, “remarkably safe and effective means of reducing risk of the commonest disease in the western world. As long as the risk of dental caries remains significant, water fluoridation remains a public policy of great merit”.
However, conspiracy theorists claimed that water fluoridation is an evil plan devised by the government to control the population for their financial gains. These conspiracy theorists even go as far as to claim the involvement of the secretive Illuminati group. Other theories suggested that ALCOA, an American corporate giant in aluminium production, was behind the fluoridation of water.
The company has a large amount of fluoride, a byproduct of aluminium production, and nowhere to dispose of these chemicals. ALCOA ended up convincing the government to fluoridate American water as a solution to the company's long-standing problem.
3. Doctors and governments deliberately vaccinate children even though it causes autismMost healthcare professionals do not need a further introduction to the vaccine conspiracy that originated from the controversial Andrew Wakefield paper in 1998. Not only does the paper caused widespread panic, the false findings also directly cause vaccination rate to plummet, and threaten heard immunity.
The recent appointment of vaccine sceptic, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. by US President Trump to chair a vaccine safety commission further prompted concerns from the medical community.
4. CIA deliberately infect African Americans with the deadly HIV virusThe conspiracy theory was rumoured to begin almost 35 years ago where HIV was first discovered. The deadly virus was believed by many to be created by the CIA, and African Americans were targeted for elimination. Such theory was further propagated by two prominent Africans: South African President Thabo Mbeki and renown Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai.
President Thabo Mbeki rejected the notion that HIV originated from Africa. Instead, he accused the US government as the culprit behind the manufacturing of the virus. Wangari Maathai supported such notion too. The stories behind the HIV origin are so convoluted and intertwined with conspiracies that it is almost easy to believe the alternative explanations, particularly for people who suffer the impact of HIV most. MIMS
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Oliver JE, Wood T. Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 May 1;174(5):817.
Mullen J. History of Water Fluoridation. BDJ. 2005 Oct;199:1–4.
Wakefield A, Murch S, Anthony A, Linnell J, Casson D, Malik M, Berelowitz M, Dhillon A, Thomson M, Harvey P, Valentine A, Davies S, Walker-Smith J. RETRACTED: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 1998 Feb;351(9103):637–41.